The number of Internet users in the country grew rapidly in the first half of this year even as the economy suffered from the global downturn, a report by a quasi-government organization showed. China's Internet user number reached 338 million by the end of June, an increase of 13.4 percent over 2008, a report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) showed. But three-fourths of the populace are still offline, presenting great potential for future growth, it pointed out. Liu Bing, chief writer of the report, said government efforts to provide subsidies to rural PC buyers and increase investment in basic rural infrastructure encouraged more consumers from remote areas to come online, which played an important role in the growth of China's overall online population amid the global economic slowdown. Rural Internet users reached 95.65 million in the period, accounting for nearly 30 percent of China's online population, according to the report. "With China's online user number increasing, the Internet is becoming one of the most important media in the country," said Gu Jing, public relations director at BMW Brilliance Automotive, BMW's local joint venture. "During the past few years, we have paid a great deal of attention to the online media to do more interactions with our customers and have got very good results." Michael Young, chief executive of Mediacom, a domestic Internet firm that provides online advertising and public relations services for websites, chatrooms and bulletin board systems (BBS), said more advertisers were starting to realize the power of the Internet users.